Written by MATCHA-PR
Fukushima Hope Tour: Witness Regional Revival And Future Prospects
Fukushima is recovering after the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami that affected the region in 2011. This tour is a chance to see the current state of disaster-affected areas, visit facilities that help the region's revival, and meet locals involved in shaping the future of Fukushima.
Journey for Hope - A Two-Day Fukushima Tour
Fukushima Prefecture is recovering from the Great Tohoku Earthquake that hit the region on March 11, 2011, triggering a devastating tsunami and an accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant that involved the leakage of radioactive substances.
This two-day "Hope Tour" takes you to facilities that contribute to the revival of the region and to areas that are being rebuilt after the disaster. You'll learn facts about what actually happened in Fukushima after the earthquake, about the technology used for decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. You will also see the community's efforts to understand radioactivity and create a future that is not conditioned by the past. In addition to gaining insight into Fukushima's recovery progress, participants will also learn that one of the region's goals is to cover 100% of the energy needs of the prefecture by 2040 using only renewable resources.
Meeting at JR Koriyama Station
The Fukushima Hope Tour is fully guided and starts at JR Koriyama Station. English interpreters are available for participants from overseas.
The group travels by chartered bus from Koriyama to Hamadori, the eastern region of Fukushima, which was most severely affected by the disaster in 2011. Once you get on the bus, you'll meet the field partner of the tour--a person who is very knowledgeable about the 2011 disaster and the current situation in Fukushima.
When we took this tour, our field partner was Mr. Takaaki Kanno (photo above), deputy director of the Namie Town Planning Corporation, who is actively involved in developing revival strategies for the Namie community.
We also received personal dosimeters to measure the dose uptake of radiation whenever we wanted, as well as receivers to use during guided walks through the towns of Hamadori.
First Stop: Learning about Radiation at Commutan Fukushima
The Fukushima Prefectural Center for Environmental Creation "Commutan Fukushima" is a prefectural facility in the city of Miharu.
Locals and visitors to the area can learn here about the Great Tohoku Earthquake and the tsunami that hit the eastern coast of Japan on March 11, 2011, as well as about the present state of the environment in Fukushima and radioactivity.
The Commutan staff explains what exactly happened at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant using a miniature of the facility. Any inquiries are welcome and the staff will be happy to tell what the current situation is for the local communities affected by the disaster.
The exhibits at Commutan show current data about the region: how many people are still evacuated from their homes, how many workers are involved in decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and current tourism statistics of Fukushima.
One corner of the exhibition room informs about radiation types, average doses of radiation found in the natural environment, as well as about values that are dangerous for humans. Since the disaster, the agricultural produce of Fukushima undergoes strict measurements of radiation levels. Only the products within the fixed standard values, which are set lower than any other region in Japan, are allowed to go on the market.
At Commutan, you will discover the challenges faced by the local community in promoting the region as safe to live in. The information available here is reassuring for anyone who considers a trip to Fukushima.
Visiting the TEPCO Decommisioning Archive Center
After having lunch at Tomioka Hotel (Japanese), a recently opened lodging near Tomioka Station, which was severely affected by the tsunami on March 11, 2011, you'll be visiting the TEPCO Decommissioning Archive Center.
This facility introduces the current decomissioning efforts of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
After hearing an explanation of how the nuclear reactor meltdown occurred, you'll be guided through the exhibition room that displays photos and information on the current state of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
The 2011 disaster and the decommissioning process are further explained in a video viewable on the second floor.
Employees of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant are working to ensure that the nuclear fuel that melted down can be safely isolated. They use robots to check on the state of the damaged fuel container and to consider methods of dealing with it.
The exhibits show how challenging is the task of dealing with the leaked fuel. At the same time, it shows that the safe decommission of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is a serious endeavor.
Passing through Futaba, the "Area Difficult to Return to"
On the way to the next destination, the bus travels via the National Route 6, passing through Futaba. A part of this town has been designated an "area that is difficult to return to." The radiation levels in Futaba, while harmless in the short term, have affected the quality of the soil, making it dangerous to live here.
The road is lined with houses that are locked and uninhabited. Because of the barricades, Futaba residents are restricted from returning to their homes.
In the other areas visited previously, the values shown by the dosimeter do not surpass 0.2 μSv/h. However, in Futaba, the values can reach 2.7 μSv/h, which is still not a concern for short-term visitors, though the difference between these values itself is striking.
A Walk in Namie, a Town on its Course to Revival
Before the March 11 disaster, Namie was a town with a population of approximately 20,000. The town was evacuated after the Great East Japan Earthquake and only in 2017 was the evacuation order lifted. At present, some of the locals started returning to their homes.
However, time stopped for six years in Namie, which means that there were no industries, no jobs, and no shops in the town until recently. Our field partner, Mr. Kanno, is in charge of creating revitalization programs for Namie, which includes making jobs, facilities, and projects to involve the local community.
As of November 2019, when we took part in this tour, there were about 1,000 people living in Namie. The town is slowly recovering, but no one resides in most of the buildings and many of them are overgrown by wild plants.
In Namie, I saw the most beautiful susuki pampas grass I had ever seen. Susuki usually grows on wide open fields. The thought that such lovely susuki grows in a town that should be inhabited by its locals was perplexing.
A Symbol of Survival: The Ukedo Elementary School
Ukedo is the easternmost distrcit of Namie, stretching along the Pacific coast. The area was hit direcly by the tsunami on March 11, 2011, with the waves reaching heights of 15 meters.
The only building still standing here is the former Ukedo Elementary School. On March 11, 2011, after the earthquake hit the region, a tsunami warning was issued. The students of this school managed to escape by running toward the hill on the western side of the district. All the children's lives were saved. The building of the Ukedo Elementary School is kept as a symbol of survival.
The last destination you'll be visiting in Namie is the Ohirayama Cemetery, located on the hill west of Ukedo. This cemetery has a monument erected in the memory of all those who lost their lives in the earthqake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.
Staying Overnight in Hironomachi
Tour participants stay at a lodging close to the destinations to be visited on the second day. We stayed at Hatago Inn, a very modern, comfortable hotel opened in 2018 in the town of Hirono. The hotel has spacious, bright rooms, and hot spring facilities.
Facts about Fukushima's Nuclear Power Plants: The Inspiring Story of Mr. Yoshikawa
After dinner, the tour participants have the chance to listen to one more inspiring story of a Fukushima local. Mr. Yoshikawa, now representing an organization called AFW ("Appreciate Fukushima Workers"), was a TEPCO employee at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant at the time of the disaster.
He subsequently left TEPCO and dedicated himself to spreading the knowledge about the present state of disaster-affected areas and the decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
Mr. Yoshikawa uses a miniature of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant to explain the structure of the facility, how the accident affected it, and its current state.
One of humanity's most important discoveries, nuclear power is extremely efficient and likely essential for keeping the pace of modern society. But, on the other hand, it brings irreparable damage to the environment we inhabit. The best part of Mr. Yoshikawa's talk is that the tour participants are left with the task of reaching their own conclusions regarding the use of nuclear energy today.
JAEA Naraha Center for Remote Control Technology Development
The first facility you'll be visiting on the second day of the tour is the JAEA Naraha Center for Remote Control Technology Development. This facility specializes in testing robots and technolgy used for the decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
After a brief introduction to the purpose of the facility, tour participants visit the techonology test area and can experience the VR technology used for visualizing the interior of the damaged fuel container.
Volunteer Work in Hironomachi
At the Hironomachi Community Hall, the tour participants have the chance to meet Ms. Yumiko Nishimoto, chairwoman of the NPO "Happy Road Net."
Happy Road Net creates opportunities to involve local students in community development projects. One of their ongoing projects is creating a beautiful road lined by cherry trees in Hirono.
Hope Tour participants will do one hour of volunteer work to contribute to this project. We helped to cut the wild grasses that grew at the bases of the cherry trees. Although our help was a small contribution towards beautifying the environment, it was fun to work together with the locals for a common purpose.
Group Discussion with the Field Partner
The Fukushima Hope Tour ends with a group discussion moderated by the field partner. After learning firsthand about the current situation of the disaster-affected areas and hearing the locals' wishes for the future of their community, every participant had their own thoughts about Fukushima.
You might feel relieved that the situation is less critical than you might have imagined. Or, you might be overwhelmed by the locals' positive attitude toward their future, who refuse to let themselves be put down by the risks involved in living close to a decommissioned nuclear plant. The workshop will help to sort out any mixed feelings you might have at the end of this trip.
After the workshop, the tour bus will take you back to JR Koriyama Station. This is where you'll say goodbye to the field partner and the group.
Find Hope for the Future by Visiting Fukushima
After the two-day Fukushima Hope Tour, you'll realize you're not the same anymore. All the encounters, the stories, and the realities you get to see firsthand can be a truly life-changing experience.
This inspiring, hope-themed tour is offered by Wondertrunk & Co., a company specialized in trips to lesser-known regions of Japan that deserve the attention of international visitors who want to see the unadorned, authentic sides of this country.
Please check the official Fukushima Hope Tour Page for details.
Written by Ramona Taranu
Supported by Wondertrunk & Co., Ltd.